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Bradford parents master balancing act of work and kids throughout pandemic

'My concern is for their mental and emotional wellbeing'

With schools in Ontario out since mid March, many parents have been struggling with the balancing act of meeting the demands of work and raising their kids at the same time.

And with most summer camps and recreational programs cancelled for summer, parents are barely hanging on, meeting the needs of both their employers and children. 

Bradford parents Maria Leung and Gavin Fung both work full time jobs with a five and two year old at home. 

They had considered putting their children in daycare for the summer, but decided not to in the end, in fear of who their children may come into contact with. 

"We have no control over who other kids have been seeing," said Leung. 

During the school year, Leung said after a month of homeschooling they gave up. 

"It's impossible for us to work, hang out with the kids, cook, and clean the house and homeschool at the same time," she said. "So we opted to skip the school work and do a lot of outdoor activities like going hiking, exploring the trails in Bradford, bird watching and learning how plants grow."

But she noted this isn't a longterm solution. 

"If the government decides to have the kids learn at home, I hope the lessons will be much more interactive and the teachers will be teaching and not us parents," she said. 

Michelle Harwood is a nurse, with three young boys aged seven, five and 15 months and says there has been no accomodation for her home situation, and is expected to attend her shifts as scheduled. 

"My husband and I tried to work around my schedule, his work was more accomodating and allowing him to switch times and days," she said. 

After the first month of quarantine, she said they needed to call in help from her mother and mother-in-law for daycare. At night time is when they would work on distance learning. 

"Overall the kids did well with this sudden change," she said, adding that her husband sometimes takes the kids to their family cottage for a change of scenery. 

"But it was definitely hard on them in the social aspect," she said. "And the always together aspect of small house living was challenging."

Mother of three, Leanne Newton-Mason says her family is coping as best they can with the situation but is finding it challenging on the kids' mental health. Her children are 9, 11 and 12 and attend W.H. Day School. 

“The challenge of limited gaming has been the hardest as we had to become more intentional with our parenting, explaining why they need to take a break,” she explained.  

She said they make an effort to eat together at least once a day to talk, laugh and play as a family. 

“It’s definitely challenging being around your siblings all the time so we’ve worked with them a lot more to teach forgiveness and grace with how to treat each other,” she said. 

In terms of homeschooling, she says she has learned some hard lessons from the experience, in particular, just how far behind her daughter is with her grade 8 curriculum. 

“I’m glad now I can correct what’s wrong and help her gain back her confidence and knowledge of the basics,” she said. 

Arlene Hearn who lives in a rural part of Bradford, says before COVID her family did their best to stay away from as much technology as possible, but with home schooling she ended up buying Chromebooks for her nine-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. 

“Now it just feels like a lot of time is being spent on those Chromebooks and I think that’s where the challenge rises,” she said. 

She says she has been more lenient with technology these days because it’s a way for her children to connect and stay social with friends. 

“That’s their only connection to them,” she said. “It’s been a long time since they have seen their friends and actually engaged with them.”

Her husband works full time from home and she works part-time in an administrative role for an electrical engineering company, but has been working less hours during the pandemic.

With her extra time during quarantine, she decided to go back to school (online) to obtain her coaching accreditation. 

“From that standpoint, COVID’s been a blessing, because the logistics of trying to go back to school with children was daunting,” she said. 

Because her children are older, she said they are fairly independent and homeschooling wasn’t too difficult. She praised the teachers and their efforts to keep the students engaged every week through online learning, but admitted that getting the kids motivated to do school work at home was challenging. 

“Most kids are reluctant to work with their parents than teachers,” she observed. 

But she worries about the fall.  With the possibility of part time school hours, she wonders how she will be able to accommodate both her children’s schedules. 

“What if they are scheduled to go [to school] on different days?” she questioned.“I guess everyone is just trying to come up with solutions as best as they can, it’s a complicated conversation."

Currently there are no definitive plans on what school will look like in September, as school boards work from the provincial government's framework on three options: full time in class, part time in class or a combination of distance and in-class learning. The uncertainty is causing feelings of stress and anxiety for parents who worry about their careers and children’s mental and physical health. 

Newton-Mason says she is in no rush to send her children back to school, but is okay with a part time schedule. 

“It’s going to be a gong show next year,” she laughed. 

While Hearn is keen to send her children back to school in September, her husband would prefer to wait until at least October to see how the virus is spreading after school starts. 

"My concern is for their mental and emotional wellbeing," she said. "With no gym, no team sporting events, no track and field, no cross country, no chess club, and very likely no school fun days like Harvest lunch and STEAM night - school will be a very different experience."

Leung said she isn't sure about sending her daughter back to school and will depend on the number of COVID cases in the area at the time. 

"I'm not so scared for my kids as they are young. I'm more concerned about the elderly who they will talk to, for example their grandparents," she said. "[We] don't want to risk the kids getting infected and in turn infecting others."

Harwood says she is weary about sending her boys to school in the fall as she doesn't think kids are able to distance well. 

"And a lot of parents send kids when they are sick to school before the pandemic started, so I feel like they would do the same," she said. 

On the other hand, she sees the need for the kids to be in the classroom for social interaction. 

"But in Bradford most of our classes are large as we don't have enough schools, so how can they safely keep everyone safe if this second wave appears again?" she questioned.

"Overall, [I'm] still undecided."

For now parents and students must wait, try to enjoy their summer as much as possible and keep an eye out for communications from their school board.

Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is BradfordToday's Community Editor. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats
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